As noted both in the breaking news edition of this story and an email from VP for Student Life Karnell McConnell-Black, the antisemitic graffiti found in a third-floor library bathroom on the afternoon of Friday, October 27 was confirmed to contain both a Nazi swastika and the numbers 1488, a combination of two popular white supremacist numeric symbols. The Quest has also received photographic evidence of its contents from the student who discovered the graffiti, and this evidence can be found in the digital version of this article (we have decided for obvious reasons not to distribute a hate symbol in the printed edition of the Quest).
In an interview with the Quest, Jewish Student Union (JSU) president Jesse Weiss said that 20 minutes after receiving the original email from Dr. McConnell-Black, she reached out to the Office of Institutional Diversity to find out more information about the situation. She was redirected to Dr. McConnell-Black, and, upon visiting his office in person, asked, “Is it a swastika?” “Because what is antisemitic language, what symbol comes to your head?” Weiss said, “and I got non-verbal communication […] he did not use words to confirm that that’s what it was. But that was the best that I could get. I chose not to share that because in case it wasn’t, I would not want to spread misinformation. So we were holding onto that until it was shared.”
Weiss also said that the JSU requested that a CSO be present outside of a JSU open meeting. Ensuring extra safety in this way is not anything new, according to Weiss, who said “[g]rowing up, it’s not unusual to see a police car in the parking lot of a synagogue. For extra security.” The college refused Weiss’ request to provide the club with a CSO, “partly because they were like ‘Well what was your intention?’ I said security, to ensure the safety of the students, community safety, I feel like that’s pretty self-explicit.” Weiss said that CSOs responded that they lacked physical training and that they could not do anything on short notice. Weiss then argued that the short notice was due to not knowing about the hate speech until two days prior; that she didn’t “know we needed to have safety at an event with Jewish students until something happened on our campus.” Eventually, someone from the administration did come to the meeting before it started to let the JSU know that they would be on campus if needed. Weiss is working on getting a form of security present for future JSU meetings.
This is not the first time Reed has had an incident with antisemitic graffiti, there was a similar case in 2016. According to a November 13 article of that year in Willamette Week, “Two bathrooms at Reed College’s library were defaced with racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and pro-Trump graffiti.” The graffiti was covered over quickly, and the article states that “college officials don’t know who committed the vandalism.” After it was discovered there was an email sent out by the administration, just like in the current situation, and this previous email stated “‘Regardless of who committed this heinous act, such behavior is antithetical to Reed’s mission and values, and will not be tolerated,’ … ‘Anyone seeking to cause fear or harm to members of the Reed community should expect a vigorous response.’”
In 2016, a Reed student named Addison Bates noted in an email to faculty that, in light of the incident, it would be “imperative that Reed College change its mission statement and first operating principle to truly be […] antithetical to the acts that were taken Saturday night.” They noted that Reed’s commitment to the “intrinsic value of intellectual pursuit,” does not protect the campus against hate speech, as hate speech is a case in which they believe censorship is necessary for “the freest exchange of ideas between members of a diverse community.” They note that as a nation “we have dark times ahead of us […] This set of ideologies that include the principles of white supremacy and rape culture have been perpetuated in our schools of thought for the past 400 years. If we are to decide we do not wish to perpetuate these ideologies any longer we must explicitly come together against them.”
The hate symbols found on Reed’s campus are part of a larger trend of hate on college campuses across the nation. According to USA Today, colleges have reported an increase in hate crimes against Muslim and Jewish students. NBC notes that federal officials have charged a Cornell University student for making violent antisemitic threats in an online forum and that threats of violence were made against Jewish students at the University of Pennsylvania over email. A hate crime investigation has also been launched into a hit-and-run directed towards an Arab Muslim student at Stanford. The driver yelled an expletive at the student directed towards “you and your people” while accelerating towards the student on November 3, 2023. The Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have reported drastically higher counts of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hate incidents over the past month in comparison to earlier in the year and to 2021. In conversation with the Quest, Director of Community Safety Gary Granger said that, prior to October 27, Community Safety had not been aware of any similar hateful graffiti or other incidents taking place in recent months. Granger expressed his hope that the Reed community can come together “during this difficult time.”